African Union turns 20
The German Africa Foundation wishes the African Union (AU) a happy 20th birthday. On 09 and 10 July 2002, the AU was officially founded in Durban, South Africa, during its 1st summit. Since Morocco’s accession in 2017, all 55 African countries are members of the AU, even though Mali, Sudan and the Compact with Africa countries Burkina Faso and Guinea are currently suspended due to their military coups. The AU replaced its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which was founded in 1963 and whose focus was on the promotion of diplomacy, unity and solidarity within Africa as well as the fight against colonialism and apartheid, after a one-year transformation phase. Compared to the OAU, the AU’s mandate, competencies and institutions have increased, especially concerning the promotion of peace and economic integration as well as the African continent’s representation on the international level. Observers praise the AU for its role as Africa’s international spokesperson, which, for example, has vociferously advocated for the continent’s interests concerning vaccine distribution in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. With the introduction of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the AU has come a big step closer to the goal of the economic integration of the continent. The results in the area of conflict resolution and prevention are mixed. Although it has had some success as a mediator in conflicts between members, most recently between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda at the beginning of July, it has been accused of inconsistent crisis management. In the last two years, for example, the AU has reacted to a series of military coups but remained silent in the case of the unconstitutional takeover by Mahamat Déby in Chad in 2021. It is also keeping a low profile regarding other undemocratic power manoeuvres such as constitutional amendments to extend terms of office. At present, the AU, which had declared 2022 the Year of Food even before the Ukraine war, is hosting the 41st Executive Council Summit in Lusaka, Zambia. From Thursday to Saturday, the foreign ministers of the AU Member States are meeting there to discuss, among other things, solutions to increase agricultural production on the continent.
Zambia presents new financial plan
On Saturday, the Zambian Ministry of Finance announced the cancellation of 2.1 billion USD in financial loan-based projects during the presentation of its new medium-term budget plan. With this, the Zambian government is taking another step to curb new debt borrowing. The plan also intends to establish national cash reserves worth three times the monthly volume of imports to strengthen resilience. New legislation is also expected to give parliament more oversight of national companies’ borrowing operations. In 2020, Zambia became the first country in the world to default on its debt repayments after the pandemic began. Estimates put the southern African state’s external debt at at least 17.3 billion USD at the end of 2021. Along with Ethiopia and Chad, Zambia was one of the first countries to apply for debt restructuring under the Common Framework of the G20 and the Paris Club, which was set up at the end of 2020. However, negotiations have been dragging on ever since – new money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can only be disbursed once debt restructuring agreements have also been reached with private creditors and China. One third of the accumulated debt is due to Chinese investments, 18 state and private Chinese lenders are involved in the country’s debt. At times, China was represented in the country with a credit volume amounting to 43% of Zambia’s economic output, significantly more than the strategically targeted goal of only 10%. A state bankruptcy is thus not in the interest of the Asian economic power. At the same time, the debt restructuring process under the Common Framework presupposes a multilateral solution, so China could for the first time cooperate with Western states in international debt policy. This is another reason why many observers are looking closely at the case of Zambia, whose creditors are to meet and negotiate again next Monday, and how Chinese creditors deal with defaulting debt payments.
In other news
Sub-Saharan Africa is considered the fastest growing mobile economy, yet millions of internet users do not have access to content in their native language. The technology firm Meta has therefore announced the launch of a new AI programme: “No Language Left Behind” (NLLB-200) is said to ensure access to digital content in 55 African languages. As a new service from Meta, it is expected to provide highly developed translations between more than 200 languages worldwide. The performance of this open-source program shall be evaluated using a specially developed data set called FLORES-200 to ensure high quality translations. NLLB-200 is said to provide up to 44% better translations on average than its predecessor and to take into account languages such as Kamba and Lao that are not yet supported by any other translation program. While the AI program is already in use on Facebook and Instagram, Meta hopes to expand its use to other apps and networks.